There are few places on Earth that allow you to use the full feature set of your camera skills and most people don’t think that place would be the grand old American amusement park! I’m here to show you how to get spectacular shots, while having fun at the same time. Here are my top 10 tips for amazing amusement park photography.
Camera Gear and Settings for Amusement Park Photography
Any camera that allows you to control your settings manually will do. I like having at least 1 wide-to-normal length zoom lens for candids and nearby scenes and a telephoto for the faraway rides.
For most of my action shots, I shoot at a high shutter speed to avoid blur in the daylight (about 1/4000th of a second and above) and adapt my ISO settings accordingly depending on sun or shade. But at night I’ll slow it down to get some awesome, colorful motion blur.
Tip #1: If you intend on going on any rides or attractions, assume your gear isn’t coming on board with you.
While you’re spinning around in the air, your gear is on the ground and vulnerable to theft. Take this into consideration when packing your backpack the night before. Consider using an “All Day Use” locker so you can secure your items and not worry about your equipment being stolen while on rides. The $5-$15 investment is well worth it.
Tip #2: Check the park press page for lens / equipment restrictions.
Some parks have limits on how big of a lens you can bring. They also have restrictions on full-size (or any) tripods. This is to thwart professionals from photographing the park without a permit or public relations person present. Visit the parks’ media/press page beforehand. If you can’t find information there, e-mail the park PR person or anyone who seems like they would know.
Tip #3: Expect to wait.
Just like waiting in line for a ride, “the shot” could take some time to get. Roller coaster trains usually go by once every 90 seconds.
Tip #4: Fences and signs are there for a reason.
It should go without saying, but NO photo is worth risking your life for! Jumping fences or disobeying warning signs is a sure way to hurt yourself and others. It can also get yourself permanently banned from the park or even arrested!
You can shoot through chain-link fences without disobeying park rules. Challenge yourself by getting artistic with it.
Tip #5: Landscaping is often overlooked.
Many parks have traditions with their landscape – usually either a floral clock or a daily changing floral calendar. Look past the rides and check out some of the scenery instead! Try for a macro flower shot with a bokeh’d roller coaster in the background.
Tip #6: Reaction shots are plentiful.
Head to the water rides for the best reaction shots. Try for capturing expressions and water geysers at the same time.
Tip #7: Don’t focus on the obvious.
Sometimes, it’s not the “signature element” of the ride that’s really photo worthy – it could be something much smaller that makes the ride unique and worth your attention, like the ticket taker, unique ride design, or some detail in the paint.
Tip #8: Night shots are hard to find and harder to get.
Some of the best night shots are found where there is a lot fun lighting, usually decorative like at a carnival. But even parks and rides without specialty lighting can be beautiful subjects. Always use what the park gives you to your advantage.
Over the past decade, many parks have decided to cut back their night hours, so these photos are becoming more and more difficult to take. You’ll find the latest hours in the summer – traditionally Fourth of July (or the weekend near it).
Tip #9: Garbage cans make wonderful tripods.
There’s no reason to bring a giant tripod to lug around all day. Even a Joby tripod can sag and get annoying to constantly reposition. The lowly garbage can – while potentially stinky – makes for an excellent, stable platform to lock in that long exposure shot.
Tip #10: Know ahead of time where fireworks get launched from.
Ask any park employee and they should be able to tell you where the fireworks will be lit that evening. It will make searching for the “best” spot to shoot them from much easier. Learn more about how to shoot fireworks in 8 Beginner Tips for Photographing Fireworks.
There you have it – my top tips for finding the beauty of the grand old American amusement park. Let’s ride!
*Pricing is as of this writing and subject to change.
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- Top 10 Tips for Amazing Amusement Park Photography - April 10, 2013